Tesia Nagorka of Biloxi, an Honors student at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus, said the value of Mississippi two-year colleges made her higher education choice clear.
Nagorka, a freshman art/literature major, said she chose a community college for location, affordability and low student-teacher ratio, among other things.
“There are so many basic courses you have to get in college and those courses are more affordable and convenient at the community college,” she said. “Plus, the environment is more intimate and instructors are more accessible. This makes my college experience during my first couple of years a much easier transition. I can focus on grades and not all the extraneous stuff.”
Tyler Rogers, a freshman Office Systems Technology student at Gulf Coast’s George County Center in Lucedale, agrees with Nagorka. “I had scholarships and could have attended a university but wanted to stay home instead. I’m basically a homebody and really didn’t want to live somewhere else, at least for now. Community College is cheaper and I’m getting great instruction in my classes. It’s the perfect choice for me.”
To keep community colleges affordable and available to students like Nagorka and Rogers, members of the Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges, alumni, trustees and presidents of the 15 two-year colleges rallied this week at the Capitol as legislators faced crucial deadlines. The rally was part of the Mississippi Values Campaign, which is sponsored by the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges to market community and junior colleges to both the public and lawmakers.
“Working through our state organization of community colleges, we let the legislators know that we need their continued support so that we as faculty can continue to provide an affordable and quality education for our students,” said Roy M. Wilson, Faculty Association president at Gulf Coast’s Perkinston Campus. “The legislators can do this by supporting mid-level and capital projects funding requests from our community colleges.”
Wilson said that marketing the community college to the public was an important task accomplished at the rally. “As a result of the press conference, we also let the general public know what a good job that the community colleges are doing in helping our students improve their quality of life and let them know what we need from the legislators in order to do this.” He added, “In these uncertain economic times, we especially need to keep the legislators aware of our funding requirements. I think that we did this on Capitol Day and we will continue to do so with other planned events with our legislators.”
John Speed, Faculty Association vice president at Gulf Coast’s Jefferson Davis Campus, also attended the rally. He said that the community college advocates were encouraged by the day’s events. “We were pleased that our legislators, from both the House and Senate, were able to meet some of our students, as well as a few members of our faculty. More than anything else, this occasion provided our students the opportunity to tell their lawmakers how important “affordable” higher education is to each of them and their families. The legislators of our district were very receptive to the comments and concerns of our students.”
Among speakers at the rally was Marilyn Young, president, Mississippi Faculty Association for Community and Junior Colleges and a full-time faculty member at East Mississippi Community College for 13 years.
Young noted a few facts about Mississippi community colleges:
“Our students come from all walks of life. Some come directly from high school graduation with the world before them. Some come without high school diplomas but realizing the value of furthering their education,” she said. “Some come from years of experience in the workforce but have now found themselves in need of greater training. And some now come without jobs or means to support their families as our economy has taken a turn downward.”
Willis Lott, president of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, said community and junior colleges have done more with less.
“We are the only segment in education with less funding per student today than we had in fall 1999,” he said. “I am asking the leadership in our legislative bodies to commit to making a significant effort to fund the mid-level funding state statute that they passed two years ago.”
As the economy takes a downturn, community college enrollment traditionally goes on the upswing as traditional-age students look for ways to get the most value from their education dollar and nontraditional-age students return to upgrade training or retrain for different jobs.
That’s borne out as Mississippi community colleges’ enrollment continues to climb. New figures indicate a 10.7 percent increase in credit enrollment for spring 2009 compared to spring 2008. This growth surpasses an 8.2 percent increase for fall 2008 compared to fall 2009, said Dr. Eric Clark, executive director of the State Board for community and Junior Colleges.
“The very best investment the Mississippi Legislature can make in terms of bringing our state out of this recession and preparing our people for a better quality of life for themselves and their families is to put that money into the community colleges,” he said. “In a recession, enrollment at a community college goes up. And it’s not hard to figure out why. When people lose their jobs or are afraid of losing their jobs they say ‘I’ve got to make myself more valuable in the market place.’ We’re close to home. We’re convenient and we’re the people who provide those skills for those 21st century jobs. We’re a great, great value.”
The colleges are asking for $60.3 million for mid-level funding, $128 million for capital improvements and $14.8 million for dropout recovery. Mid-level funding for community college students is midway between per-student funding for K-12 students and regional public university students. Lawmakers passed legislation signed by Gov. Haley Barbour in 2007 that commits the state to mid-level funding.
Lott said fall 2009 enrollment could jump another 10 percent.
“That is normal in these types of economic conditions,” he said. “We are asking the leadership in the legislative bodies to commit to making a significant effort to commit to mid-level funding.”
Without that commitment, “instead of adding a 10 percent growth next year, we may have to limit enrollment, denying opportunities for Mississippians to improve their lives. We may have to increase tuition significantly in order to keep our doors open to everyone who comes seeking a better life. Community colleges are Main Street Mississippi,” Lott said.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is a comprehensive, multi-campus institution offering quality, affordable educational opportunities in academic, career and technical programs. With eight locations in South Mississippi, Gulf Coast served more than 9,000 in regular, credit enrollment in fall 2008. To learn more about the college, visit www.mgccc.edu, or call 1-866-735-1122.